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CPSC replaces voluntary standard with law

Summary: CPSC has options to promulgate laws when voluntary standards are not working. This 2003 press release showed their capabilities and led us to speculate at the time if the mechanism would work for other products. Skateboard helmet manufacturers have improved their adherence to standards but there are still outliers selling product that is uncertified.

CPSC's charter prevents them from promulgating a standard if there is a voluntary standard in the field and it is working. Usually they seem to find that the voluntary standard is in fact working.

The press release below shows that CPSC is also capable of finding that the voluntary standard is not doing the job of protecting the consumer, and they are capable of going ahead and publishing a standard, in this case stated as banning a material in a product. This is the first time they have done that in recent memory, so it is a significant landmark.

It is possible that CPSC could be persuaded to do the same for a frequently-violated helmet standard. The one that came to mind immediately in 2003 was ASTM F1492, the standard for skateboard helmets. Only one manufacturer with skateboards on their box and selling their product through skateboard equipment channels was certifying their helmets to it, and even the one model did not have an ASTM sticker inside. That has since improved.

A coalition of Public Citizen (Ralph Nader's group), the National Apartment Association, and National Multi Housing Council petitioned for this change. It took them only 20 months from petition to final effective Rule, a period that may seem long to some but seems very reasonable to standards-makers.

The CPSC press release follows.

For Immediate Release

April 7, 2003
Release # 03-105
CPSC Hotline: (800) 638-2772
CPSC Media Contact: Scott Wolfson (301) 504-7051
*B-roll footage available upon request*

CPSC Bans Candles With Lead-Cored Wicks

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted unanimously to ban the manufacture and sale of lead-cored wicks and candles with lead-cored wicks. CPSC determined that candles using lead-cored wicks could present a lead poisoning hazard to young children. The federal ban, which applies to all domestic and imported candles, should deter manufacturers from making non-conforming wicks, allow the U.S. Customs Service to stop shipments of non-conforming wicks and candles, and allow for the CPSC to seek penalties for violations of the ban.

"Over the past 30 years, CPSC has been at the forefront of protecting the nation's children from the hazards associated with lead," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "The ban of lead-cored candle wicks should give parents with young children peace of mind that the burning of votive, pillar or container candles will not emit a dangerous toxin."

A CPSC investigation found that despite a voluntary industry agreement in the 1970s to remove lead from candle wicks, a small percentage of candles sold in the past several years still contained lead-cored wicks. CPSC staff found that some lead-cored wicks could emit relatively large amounts of lead into the air during burning. Children may then inhale the vaporized lead, placing them at risk. Children may also be exposed to lead by mouthing objects on which lead has settled or by handling such objects and then mouthing their hands.

Some of the candles tested by CPSC staff emitted lead levels in excess of 3,000 micrograms per hour - about seven times the rate that could lead to elevated levels of lead in a child. CPSC estimates that an indoor air lead level of 430 micrograms per hour from burning candles could result in hazardous exposure to children.

Lead poisoning in children is associated with behavioral problems, learning disabilities, hearing problems and growth retardation. Although the primary source of lead poisoning in the United States is lead from paint in older homes, lead accumulates in the body, and even exposure to small amounts of lead can contribute to the overall level of lead in the blood.

Safe alternatives to lead-cored wicks, including zinc, synthetic fibers, cotton and paper, are used by most candle and candle wick manufacturers. Currently, candles that use a metallic core in the wick most likely contain zinc. Because consumers cannot tell if a metal-cored wick contains lead or an alternative, consumers may wish to contact the retailer for information about the materials used in their candles.

The CPSC was petitioned to ban candle wicks containing lead cores and candles with such wicks by Public Citizen, the National Apartment Association, and National Multi Housing Council on February 20, 2001.

The ban against manufacturing, importing, or selling candles with lead wicks will become effective in October 2003.

Some container, pillar, votive, and tea light candles use metal wicks and CPSC found that some contained lead.

Tapers, commonly used as dinner candles, use cotton wicks and do not contain lead.\